(Reaction/critique of T. Ruanni F. Tupas's A Century of Errors: English Language Teaching and a Political History of Philippine-American Relations which can be accessed on this site: http://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/elcttr/A%20Century%20of%20Errors.pdf)
Reading a 32-page chronicle about savagery, deceit, and inherent malevolence of imperialism left me to ruminate about the conception of history as propaganda of the powerful. On his Theses on the Philosophy of History, Walter Benjamin wrote, “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism; barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another”.
For imperial America, this “document of civilization” is written in English, to be enforced upon the hapless people of its colonies. As foreseen by Benjamin, the manner by which language is transmitted will, at all times, be tainted by barbarism; not only because the introduction of colonial language causes “psychological disturbance” to the colonial subject but also because the language itself is used as a tool for colonial and cultural amnesia.
The Philippines is one painful product of American civilizing mission. Indeed, more than a century have passed since an American soldier shot a Filipino at San Juan Bridge, yet for those who remember, ghostly bullets of American atrocities still pierce into our national consciousness. For those who remember, it is in the renewed anguish every time we hear historical accounts of Filipino bodies being “piled so high that the Americans used them for breastworks” during the Philippine – American war. For those who forget, it is embedded in the nation’s suffering of cultural poverty and gathering of past cultural fragments to establish our national identity.
The colonial and neocolonial suffering of the Filipino, brought about by cultural and linguistic imperialism, is now a form of psychological disease on a national scale. The subjugation of Filipino minds, as Tupas contends, is sustained in the seemingly harmless domain of education research and English Language Teaching (ELT), both of which are influenced by colonial version of our history. However, we cannot be faulted for this national disorder of our psyche precisely because, following Benjamin’s thought, the colonial version of Philippine history is the “history written by the victors” who have long been mentally assaulting our system of thought for their own economic and cultural gains.
For a nation enduring its long colonial history, the Philippines is an epitome of a country suffering from colonial and cultural amnesia brought about by the barbaric transmission of language, history, and other imperialist “documents of civilization”. Because centuries of colonial assault on the Filipino result to “psychological disturbance” on a national scale, the restorative follows that a critical examination of the present Filipino psyche should be retraced. As can be noted, most approaches in psychotherapy require awareness and articulation of experience as a form of consciousness and healing. Using one’s own psychological account of colonial suffering is a step towards national therapy and sensemaking.
What Tupas failed to realize is that Bonifacio Sibayan’s retrospective essay (1991) was a form of personal reconstructive healing about the author’s confrontation of an alien language which totally altered his childhood psyche while growing up in a remote, non-English community of Bakun. Sibayan never denied the “struggle and frustrations, sometimes mixed with anger and resentment” that he endured when English was enforced as a colonial language at school. His way of coping with linguistic suffering was to forget the ordeal and shift his focus on the “many advantages derived… through education and love for books and learning”.
In other words, Sibayan dealt with his linguistic miseries in a rather “Filipino way” of coping – that is, transforming his resentment into disremembering and looking instead on the advantages of that misery which for him was “education, love for books, and learning”. This is not to say that his was the proper way to heal the mental trauma of colonialism (through which he was a mere victim), but his was an honest retrospection of internal healing; a manner by which we can view as contributive to our aim of constructing a national dialogue that will teach our people how to make sense of our colonial experience and collectively deal with our national trauma.
Both Sibayan and Gonzales (1996), in claiming that “linguistic imperialism is the thing of the past”, should be viewed as victims and not perpetrators of the very situation they deny or choose to forget. Tupas, on the other hand, in detailing “a century of errors” in our colonial education system, should be viewed as an enlightened imperial subject who, for the purpose of irony, chose to expose the savagery, deceit, and malevolence of the very colonial language he speaks and vows to speak up against.